Do we need the Snooper's Charter to save lives?
The Home Office uses the article to ram home why it believes additional surveillance measures are needed with an emotive piece headlined: “Track crime on net or we’ll see more people die” -- and illustrated with a photo of the bus torn apart in the attacks on 7 July 2005.
“The people who say they’re against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they’re not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public,” the piece asserts. “Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill. Victims of crime, police and the public will want them to vote for it. It’s a question of whose side you’re on.”
Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill. Victims of crime, police and the public will want them to vote for it
The warning comes as Whitehall waits for a parliamentary committee report into the draft bill, with many expecting a negative finding -- and Nick Clegg reportedly ready to oppose the surveillance legislation.
Despite calls for clearer evidence on why and how the changes would make a difference, there has been very little actual explanation as to how the bill would actually save lives, or exactly what additional information could be gleaned from data such as email headers and online messaging that isn't already available to investigators.
As its evidence that the proposed legislation is relevant, The Sun article cites two cases that have been helped using technology: one in which a child pornography ring was partially brought to justice because of IP addresses being identified, and another in which police tracked down a suicide attempt and cut the would-be victim down before he died.
“Cops were provided with the IP addresses of everyone who had been accessing the site and many people were identified from the data and prosecuted,” the case study said, adding that although some were arrested "others escaped because internet access companies had no record of who had used the IP addresses”.
The second case, while an admirable example of what quick action can do, shows that existing laws allow fast access to necessary data -- and doesn't answer what the law has to do with terror, organised crime or paedophiles.
The first also could have been dealt with under existing laws. As Big Brother Watch said in its blog post on the subject: “In this case, it would be proportionate to go to internet service providers and ask for the IP address of any computer accessing the website, and for data to be retained about that use. Those people could be identified and prosecuted without needing to record every website visit of every person.”
IP addresses are already routinely kept by ISPs under data retention guidelines from the European Union that are in effect in the UK. Although not all ISPs are covered by this – and the government doesn't disclose the list of those that are – it's understood that larger ISPs are all required to keep the data. Surely the Home Office could quite easily extend that list to all UK ISPs?
For those ISPs that are required to keep the data, it's not “random” as the report suggests, but, according the ISP Association, is a legal requirement.
Using cases that rely on IP address information, therefore, really doesn't go any way to justifying the bill, and in fact if the government really wanted to make its point, it would be better to highlight the cases where authorities couldn't solve a case because they didn't have access to data.
For one law, IP addresses are reliable evidence; for another, they're not -- the government appears to be claiming both positions at the same time
But the confusion over a lack of IP address information seems even more bizarre given that over at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, officials have enough confidence in current IP address information to place it at the heart of copyright protection plans. Under the Digital Economy Act illegal, downloaders are set to be identified and potentially punished based on evidence of material accessed from their IP addresses.
For one law, IP addresses are reliable evidence that are easy enough to access; for another, they're not -- the government appears to be claiming both positions at the same time.